by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
Since the advent of the digital revolution the meetings and events industry has been drowning in a sea of content. Most of this content is ephemeral, disappearing without a trace as temperatures change. Some, however, endures, like the salt that remains when heat causes the water to evaporate. Greg Oates’ thoughtful piece on Skift earlier this month, “The Manifesto for a New Generation of Meetings and Conventions” is such an example.
Amidst an infestation of articles, blogs and newsfeeds on new hotel openings, millennials in the workplace and how it’s now a seller’s market, Oates’ article has the effect of a stern, sombre but highly respected school principal suddenly appearing in a classroom of noisy, unruly adolescents. The place goes quiet and the more diligent students think “shit, we’ve let ourselves down badly”. This is because Oates draws our attention, as a collective industry, to the lack of strategic mission at the heart of what we do. Hotels are re-positioning themselves as neighbourhood hang-outs. Travel agents have become experts in connecting travellers with authentic experiences. Even OTAs have a strategic mission: make the on-line customer journey as easy as possible. But what’s the cohesive vision or strategic mission for the meetings industry?
Once again, as an industry, we’re hamstrung by the lack of an agreed term around which we all willingly convene. Greg uses terms like “meetings and conventions sector”, “meetings industry”, “events industry”, “business events” and “large meetings and conventions” pretty much interchangeably throughout his article. He doesn’t mention “incentives” at all but I don’t think that’s because he’s excluding that sector from his analysis. In any case his model fits the incentive sector too.
So what’s strategic mission is he suggesting for the MICE sector? How should MICE stakeholders be envisioning the future and moving towards its own brave new world of new possibilities? Oates proposes a 3 point framework of community, collaboration and content
Community / The Network Effect
The rise of public-private partnerships are helping stakeholders share data and resources to expand the destination’s inventory of potential convention participants, sponsors, exhibitors and experiences.
In the past tourism organisations, economic development agencies, academic institutions, and diplomatic entities all focused on building a positive reputation for a country, region or city with the core objective of attracting people there to live, set up business, work, study or visit. Mainly these agencies acted independently of each other, all investing heavily, albeit in different ways, to achieve the same outcome. We’re now entering an era of better joined-up thinking. In smart, progressive destinations, some or all of these entities are now talking to each other, sharing data and resources and avoiding unnecessary duplication.
In Ireland the Destination Dublin initiative was a classic public / private partnership involving a spectrum of stakeholders much broader than the usual tourism suspects. One output of this initiative is “Dublin: a breath of fresh air”, a new brand for Dublin that highlights the city’s uniqueness as a compact, vibrant city with an exciting hinterland of mountains and sea perfect for all manner of outdoor activity. Initially tailored for the leisure markets, a MICE application of the brand is currently being finalised.
Collaboration / The Value Proposition
The big shift here is about packaging and promoting destinations above and beyond their meetings infrastructure, and expanding on that to deliver local knowledge and creative industry expertise, academic research, and business sector intelligence to drive added value for everyone.
At some recent point in time smart destinations realised that winning major conventions wasn’t so much about the size of your convention centre or, indeed, a whether you had a stunning picture of a castle on the homepage of your website. In a recent address to the MICE community in Prague, gastroenterologist and prominent conference ambassador, Prof Julius Špičák, made it very clear that it starts with the science, ie, the conference content, then the infrastructure – particularly access – and finally human factors – is the destination sufficiently front and centre in Conde Naste magazine as to grab the attention of the Chairman’s wife!
In our work with Prague’s neighbouring city, Bratislava, we’ve been building the destination’s value proposition around accessibility, innovation and execution, highlighting the city as a knowledge hub, a hive of startups, a centre in Europe for excellence in precision engineering. There’s a beautiful castle in Bratislava but what makes it truly unique for MICE is its pioneering robotic technology at its car manufacturing plants or as the location where the world’s first flying car is being developed.
Content / Digital Engagement:
The rise of mobile and digital brand storytelling is exploding today to help destinations, venues and planners more clearly define their value proposition and their events’ messaging on an ongoing basis for larger global audiences.
The new framework for MICE starts by identifying the destination stakeholders who share a need to create demand for the destination. It then weaves the destination’s value proposition from narrative strands that include both the hardware and the software of the destination, extending way beyond the bricks and mortar of convention centres and hospitality options. Finally it utilises the power and convenience of mobile and digital platforms to share these narratives as widely as possible.
On the leisure side destinations have created some excellent on-line campaigns, building significant profile and awareness using social media and user-generated content. On the business tourism side the use of on-line has been somewhat slower and generally limited to a smaller number of truly creative DMOs. The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions is a clear outlier in relation to innovative digital content with its integrated, both on and off-line Mr Holland campaign.
Slovenia, too, has been developing some excellent digital resources and received great traction with its a campaign, #IFeel25, launched at IMEX16 in Frankfurt to celebrate its 25 years of sovereign nationhood. Using a digital quiz platform developed by Sam J.Smith’s company Interactive Meeting Technology, visitors to the Slovenia booth contested the coveted MICE Mastermind award by answering 25 questions on Slovenia and the Meetings Industry. Currently on-line at Slovenia Convention Bureau the campaign continues with fortnightly stories on the same theme.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick Delaney and Aoife McCrum run SoolNua, a specialist agency working with destinations, hotels and venues on strategy, marketing and training for the MICE market
4 thoughts on “Meetings & Events: in search of a mission”
Thanks for this and the link to and recap of Greg Oates’s “Manifesto.” As I read both his words and yours, I smiled and thought about Global Meetings Industry Day. If you wrote about it and I missed it, sorry – it’s been a busy month since that was held. In what ways do you think GMID helps to accomplish some of what you and Mr. Oates write about? What could be done to further enhance the industry’s ‘influence’ and connectedness? Do we know who we are and why we exist?
As always, Joan, a thoughtful and relevant comment. GMID is only in its first year (as a truly global endeavour) so in the rush to write anthems (I saw your comment on FaceBook) we may have missed out on some opportunities to reflect on the deeper impact of what we do as an industry and indeed on defining our raison d’etre. In the lead up to GMID17 let’s be sure to re-connect and start some serious conversations about mission and vision in the Meetings Industry.
Alas, it is not the first time Meetings Industry Day was conducted in North America and the focus then too was on an anthem and on partying. The photos have made me cringe and have portrayed the industry right into the hands in the US of our legislators who think meetings are junkets. And of course some are!
I’ve been unable to influence here. Perhaps in the global community, you can take the lead and there will be a growing understanding that anthems are the least of our concerns.
Since the dawn of time people around the globe have seen the need to meet face to face, going as far as their mode of travel would allow; we have explored, discovered, conquered and traded, solved problems and grown in knowledge. There have always been event and meeting planners – in fact they were even more strategic often than we are now – and yes this is partly because we live in a visual time, and pictures of strategy documents are simply not that sexy and don’t tell the story – so we see staging and parties and gifts and food. All of these are part of meeting, and always have been. The giving of gifts on meeting to talk trade is deeply rooted in most cultures around the world; there has always been a proscenium or a place for the presenter to present from – a coveted spot at the fire or a balcony in a grand stadium; breaking bread has also always been a way to build trust at a meeting and since the creation of beer and wine they have been served to lubricate conversation. Always hospitality, ceremony and structure have been part of meeting, and the value has never waned. There have been numerous studies on the psychology of meetings that shows in fact having a meeting without these does not make them more successful – it makes them more difficult and when human beings are honoured as the social animals we are we are more responsive to business discussions. There are also many studies that show the value of incentive travel as a key reward in driving productivity and production. What we as an industry have not done well is to articulate what we do from a business perspective – it is simply not as interesting a story that you achieved x% greater sales or generated $X through strategic business relationships via thoughtful planning as it is to say you had X performer and wasn’t that cool. We “facebook” our own industry – showing the highlights and key points of excitement, not the day to day tasks and the emails and the strategic design elements that caused all this to happen – it is not magic – it is diligence and an understanding of the business we are serving, the audience,the technology, the cultural nuances and so much more that lead to success. We also meet in hotels primarily and they don’t serve just a meeting audience and in order to maximize revpar they have an ongoing need to focus on mass B2C leisure marketing, adapting to new needs. Fortunately these new clients are also our clients so there is some correlation of meeting the “soft” needs which lead to a state of mind prepared to learn, connect and yes, do business. Is there a perfect solution? No – but can we continue to tell our story? We have to.